How to waste an achievement

There is nothing more natural - and well deserved - than celebrating an achievement. Celebrations - rewards, more in general - release dopamine and create the desire to feel those emotions again. Achievements beget more achievements.

But achievements can also induce negative behaviours. Behaviours that - when left unchecked - will make it more difficult to accomplish something the next time around. I know - and have felt - two types of such behaviours.

The first is hubris. Hubris comes when we believe to be stronger, smarter, luckier than what we are. When that happens, we become sloppy. We prepare less. We act carelessly. All conditions that are likely to lead us to failure.

A good antidote is to remind ourselves that what generated our success is not a quality we possess but a behaviour we have shown.

A famous study about children and motivation has shown that children who connect their achievements to talent are more likely to fail afterwards compared to children who connect their achievements to effort. Knowing that success depends on what we do, and how we do it, is both humbling and motivating. It reminds us that we are the masters of our destiny, but also that failure is always around the corner if we stop paying attention.

The second achievement-generated and failure-inducing behaviour is less visible and for this reason - I argue - even more dangerous. In some ways, it is the opposite of hubris: it doesn’t spur from laziness or lowering the bar, but from raising it. Let me explain with a personal example.

I have recently had the fortune to get some editing help on a post I was writing for my favourite blog, Ribbonfarm. The editor did a great job - thanks, Kevin! - and it improved a lot the quality of my writing. Thanks to that, I have now a new bar, a new standard of quality to aim for. The next time I sit down to write something I am motivated to do at least as good a job as I did on that post.

It is difficult to see something wrong in this increased ambition, but here comes the challenge. As I sit here writing this post, I am way more judgemental about what I am typing. I want each sentence to sound well, I want different paragraphs to be linked well together, I want my arguments to come out clearly and in a nice, logical thread. In other words, I am afraid to do a poor job. I am hesitating. I am hitting backspace a lot.

It reminds me of something I have read in Creativity Inc, Ed Catmull’s book about the story of Pixar. Ideas - Catmull argues - are “ugly babies” who require protection.

“Early on, all of our movies suck. That's a blunt assessment, I know, but I choose that phrasing because saying it in a softer way fails to convey how bad the first versions really are. I'm not trying to be modest or self-effacing. Pixar films are not good at first, and our job is to make them so—to go, as I say, ‘from suck to not-suck.”

Accepting that everything we produce - even our most successful creations - starts out ugly is a necessary step to avoid feeling paralysed. In The Shape of Design, Frank Chimero talks about “momentum” as a requirement for any creative effort. And momentum is something we can achieve only if we lower the bar of our inner critical voice:

“the weight of the objectives (the quality standard in our case) can crush the seeds of thought necessary to begin down an adventurous path. Momentum is the most important aspect of starting, and rejecting and editing too soon has a tendency to stifle that movement.”

We need to remember that the final output of our work - our achievement - is the product of a carefree ability to start combined with the ambition to reach our highest standards of quality. Not immediately, but eventually.

How I think about creating things

Somebody asked me a great question recently: “What’s the single most important thing you have read or learned that profoundly shaped how you think and work?”

On the spot, I hesitated. There is probably no “single thing”, but a combination of influences, experiences and lessons resulting in the way I see the world today.

At a closer look, though, it is more like many small streams flowing into the same larger river. There is one big thread connecting these different sources. It has to do with the realisation that creative acts require the ability to fully abandon oneself to the process.

Action and attachment

Since my Indian studies at university, I have been attracted to the principle of “detachment from the fruits of action”. It is one of the main teachings of the Bhagavad Gita, which I first discovered through Gandhi’s interpretation:

“This is the unmistakable teaching of the Gita. He who gives up action falls. He who gives up only the reward rises. But renunciation of fruit in no way means indifference to the result. In regard to every action one must know the result that is expected to follow, the means thereto, and the capacity for it. He, who, being thus equipped, is without desire for the result and is yet wholly engrossed in the due fulfilment of the task before him is said to have renounced the fruits of his action.” 

As clearly stated in this passage, action without attachment doesn’t mean indifference or apathy. It means a deliberate choice about where to put our focus. Today, we would say: “focus on the journey, not on the destination”. Another sage, Seneca, said:

“Artifici iucundius pingere est quam pinxisse” - painting brings more joy to the artist than to have painted.

To start is to create

Action over results, means over ends, are just one aspect of abandoning oneself to the process.

Even more important - at least for creative endeavours - is the belief in the power of getting started. Talking about this, Pablo Picasso once said:

“To know what you are going to draw, you have to begin drawing.”

From art to science, passing through the philosophy of science, we find an alternative way of saying the same. This one is from Paul Feyerabend in “Against Method”:

"Creation of a thing, and creation plus full understanding of a correct idea of the thing, are very often part of one and the same indivisible process and cannot be separated without bringing the process to a stop.”

Most ideas acquire their final shape while we are working on them. Nothing is created pure in our mind and then executed. Only through that process - the “creation of a thing” - we can discover what we are actually working on.

For Rem Koolhaas and the architects and designers at Office for Metropolitan Architecture, this is the difference between “projects” and “trajectories”:

A project is an enterprise that is carefully planned to achieve a particular aim. A trajectory instead includes the explorations, discoveries, numerous detours and unexpected surprises that occur while creating something.

Paul Graham means something similar when he says that “writing doesn’t just communicate ideas, it generates them.”


And yet somehow, starting keeps being difficult. The fear of moving in the wrong direction paralyses us. Tricking ourselves, and our brain, is the only way out.

Some tricks are unconscious: we see clarity where clarity is missing. We believe a project to be easier than it is. We trust assumptions that turn out to be wrong. Surprisingly - or not really - we often end up with results that are better than the ones we, erroneously, expected.

Albert Hirschmann called it “The Hiding Hand”:

”Creativity always comes as a surprise to us; therefore we can never count on it and we dare not believe in it until it has happened. In other words, we would not consciously engage upon tasks whose success clearly requires that creativity be forthcoming. Hence, the only way in which we can bring our creative resources fully into play is by misjudging the nature of the task, by presenting it to ourselves as more routine, simple, undemanding of genuine creativity than it will turn out to be. Or, put differently: since we necessarily underestimate our creativity it is desirable that we underestimate to a roughly similar extent the difficulties of the tasks we face, so as to be tricked by these two offsetting underestimates into undertaking tasks which we can, but otherwise would not dare, tackle.”

Another approach, when unable to unconsciously trick ourselves, is to do it on purpose. Improvisation techniques offer a good way of doing that. In “Impro”, Keith Johnstone writes:

“You have to trick students into believing that content isn’t important and that it looks after itself, or they never get anywhere.(…)You have to misdirect people to absolve them of responsibility. Then, much later, they become strong enough to resume the responsibility themselves.”

Believing that what we are doing is unimportant, that we have no “responsibility”, is also a great way to learn how to throw away things. Nothing of what I quoted here about starting makes sense if we are not able, at the right moment, to throw away whatever we have produced and start from scratch, now under a much better inspiration.

Trick yourself to get started and enjoy the ride.

Confidence is a poor judge

I am becoming increasingly convinced that confidence is a poor judge of quality. At least for me. 

A few days ago I had to write a short statement for a group discussion. After a couple of hours of work I had written about 400 words, and felt quite proud of myself. I rehearsed the statement a couple of times in my head and closed my laptop. Job done. 

The same night, I had the chance to try out some of the arguments with a person sitting next to me at dinner. I barely made it though the main point that she had already spotted a big flaw. I ended up throwing away the entire thing. 

The opposite happens as well, with similar frequency. There are times where I have an idea, an hypothesis, or maybe the beginning of a theory and I feel pretty bad about it. It seems unoriginal, weak and poorly formed. In these situations, I tend to shelf my drafts or keep my thoughts to me, but the times when I end up sharing them - reluctantly - I am often surprised about the outcome. 

Why does this happen? It can be that I am simply a very bad judge or my own ideas. But there is probably more to it. It has to do with pushing our boundaries and doing something uncomfortable. 

When we are easily satisfied about something we have done, it is likely because we have uncovered something obvious. It doesn’t matter how original it may seem. Our subconscious recognises a pattern and clicks. 

On the other hand, being unhappy about what we have created doesn’t mean it is all necessarily bad. A possible explanation is that we simply can’t see what we have done. We are far from having a complete picture, and that’s what causes the unhappiness, but we might have uncovered something worth of someone else’s attention. When we share these imperfect yet potentially interesting ideas, other people are able to see through the imperfection and spot the interestingness. 

Overconfidence pollutes all residual points of interest. Insecurity allows the receiver to see through our unfinished work and surface its potential.  

Here is a short "note to self": 

When very confident about an idea or theory, doubt yourself. Test it with someone as soon as possible and be prepared for re-writing. 

When unhappy about an idea or theory, don’t throw it away immediately. Let it linger a bit, share it with a few persons you trust and whose feedback you respect. If it is indeed bad, they will tell you. But you might also discover that under you insecurity there is a diamond in the making. 

Don't consider, try

I often catch myself using the verb "consider" when putting down a note on something I am working on or when given feedback on someone else's work. What I mean - following Cambridge Dictionary - is: "spend time thinking about a possibility". 

This may seem an innocent advice, even a good one. What's wrong with pondering an action, mulling over a potential alternative or simply spending time considering the value of a certain proposal? 

To answer this question, compare these two sentences from a note I added while reviewing a presentation I was working on:

a) "Consider moving this slide earlier in the presentation."

b) "Try moving this slide earlier in the presentation."

Sentence a) achieves nothing. It notes that something could be done different but leaves the decision for later. Something didn't feel right, we now know about it, and the thought of it is hanging there in the back of our mind bothering our subconscious without moving anything forward. It's like snooze, but for our brain. 

There are many situations where it is good to postpone a final decision, but even in that case, what will this help me do? If I move on to other things and then get back to this presentation will I have made a better decision? Leaving out something hanging like this adds little value and comports a cognitive load. 

Sentence b) is much better. It maintains all the benefits of an open and delayed decision but eliminates all the negatives. It carries within itself the solution to our doubts. By trying out the change, we can experience how it would feel and we will then be in a much better position to decide what to do. 

There are two interesting aspects to this:

1. The first relates to a shift from scarcity to abundance. The idea of thinking before doing - intended as in this example, not as a prevention of impulsive acts - is part of the legacy of an age of scarcity where actions are very material and often irreversible. On the other hand, in a situation of abundance - like writing (words or code), and digital production in general - the risk, and cost of experimentation is much lower. It is, therefore, preferable to act and test rather than assume we can find the answer to a question through endless debates in a meeting room or by just letting it sink in our head. 

2. The second one is about giving good feedback. If we use "consider", we leave all the weigh of the decision to the other person. Acting from a position of superiority, we instill doubt and then move on. But we don't get our hands dirty, we don't take any risk or expose ourselves to failure - not even the failure of our advice. Good feedback should be direct: "move this slide to the top". Sometimes this is not possible; we just don't know what's best or we don't want to "impose" a decision. In these cases, framing the advice in terms of trying is the best choice. It suggests an action while leaving the door open for evaluation: "try moving the slide, then see how it feels and decide by yourself". 

This achieves the right balance between actionable feedback and leaving the person in charge - as it shold be.


Sceptical boldness

(Toughts in progress - I plan to turn this into a longer post at a later point)

A couple of days ago I was biking home listening to a podcast. As the guest was going through his vision of the future I couldn’t stop being aware that I wasn’t able to believe. It was not that I didn’t agree with him - after all, it is all pure speculation - just that I simply couldn’t see that vision materialising. 

With this thought stuck in my head, I began thinking of many other similar situations. I generalised on twitter, and went on with my things. 

As I woke up, a small debate had started around my tweet. My friend Stefano commented that “not being able to believe” makes it hard to be an investor. Malcolm Ocean chipped in with a different view. I agree with him. I don’t consider believing a necessary condition for action. 

My point of departure is that of a sceptic. Maybe not always, maybe not in all fields, but I definitely find myself often in situations where I am the sceptic in the room. And yet it would be difficult to argue that I am risk averse, hesitant, indecisive, or that I don’t follow dreams, that I don’t get excited about wild projects.

So, apparently, I am able to reconcile non-believing and acting. But if not a belief, something else must be there to motivate my actions, to give me energy. Actually, I am quite prone to get excited, and if I think about it, I could even be accused of being gullible, at least at first impression. In fact, I am actually a sucker for narratives. 

What makes a narrative different than a belief? A narrative is a logical/plausible argumentation of a hypothetical future 1. You can believe in a narrative but I distinguish a narrative from a belief by the fact that a belief is more intuitive - instinctive even - while a narrative requires at least the appearance of a logical argumentation. 

I say “the appearance” because I am not claiming here that a narrative is necessarily superior from a “truthiness” point of view to a belief. Both can be right and both can be wrong. But a narrative has a superior argumentative content. A narrative will include a concatenation of assumptions which, individually, can be analysed as sub-narratives, until we find simple statements that can be evaluated and, eventually, confirmed or disproven. A belief has inferior argumentative power than a narrative and rests on statements like “that’s inevitable” or “is in the nature of things” and similar. 

There are then situations where forming a narrative is not possible, but we can find nonetheless a reason to act. I can see two of these. The first one is hedging. Hedging happens where situations of low probability - true or perceived - can generate high costs or large missed gains. In these cases, the main motivation is regret minimization or loss avoidance. Hedging, though, is very passive in nature and doesn’t generate sufficient energy for prolonged action. There is simply not enough conviction in a hedging argument to motivate anything more than a one-off effort, for example placing a monetary bet or buying an insurance. Nobody builds a company as part of a hedging strategy2.

A second non-narrative, non-belief form of action is generated by “what-if” statements. This is essentially a matter of curiosity. What-ifs are what side projects are typically based on. Side projects lack belief and/or narrative (depending on which type of person you are) to become full-time projects but have stronger energy than mere hedging activities. Sometimes, side projects generate sufficient conviction - for example by confirming an assumption that can then become the backbone of a new narrative - to become full-time projects. In the interim, the previous full-time project - like a full-time job - moves from being the main narrative to being a pure hedging strategy. When this happens, there is simply too little energy to continue properly. These are the cases where people go to work and end up working on their side project all the time, until either they get caught - and likely fired - or they quit. Eventually, even the hedging is dropped or substituted for another less action-intensive hedging. 

The investing side of what-if actions is optionality. Investors will at times make bets where there is no belief and no narrative if the upside of something realising its hypothetical potential is high enough to justify the bet and the effort - and risk taking - that goes into it. In the investor case, the difference between optionality and hedging is not that pronounced, but it is still a different thing. Optionality is about keeping a door open for future action. It is a bit like procrastinating until stronger conviction kicks in - like in the case of side projects - while hedging is mostly a one-off event to then move on. 

It is often said that the ability to suspend disbelief is a key trait of entrepreneurs and investors, especially the most visionary ones. Suspending disbelief doesn’t necessarily mean believing. For non-believers, it all boils down to our degree of scepticism. St. Thomas had to touch before he could actually believe - he was an absolute sceptic, he could not suspend disbelief. Pascal found a logical trick to justify believing without believing - he was hedging. The scientific method allows us to proceed by series of guesses, as long as we are willing to test their validity by attempting to falsify them. The suspension of disbelief does not require the suspension of reason. A sceptic can also be brave.


1 It can also be an explanation/rationalisation of present or past events, but this is not so relevant for this discussion.

2 This is why most “cover your ass” corporate innovation/disruption initiatives fail - you basically hope them not to happen.

The unbundling of home

I was recently asked, after coming back from a vacation, if I consider "home" to be in Italy or in Copenhagen. 

It is a simple question, but not an easy one to answer for many people in 2017. I have been in Denmark for 9 years, Copenhagen is the city where I live, work, where my kids go to school (2 out of 3 were born here) and where most of my things are. Yet, after all this time, every time I go to Italy I find myself invariably saying that I am going "home". Even when, like in my last visit, the place I am going to is more than 1000 km from the place where I was born and spent most of childhood. Reflecting more about it, I don't recall having used "home" to talk about Denmark even though I am pretty sure to have used the word "casa" which is the Italian equivalent but without the strict separation offered by the English language between the physical place and the emotional one. 

What is "home" then? 

As it happens often these days, it seems a case of a word describing a bundle of concepts which used to be together but are currently being unbundled. We have "home" the cultural place we belong to (Italy in my case), home the place where we live, home the place we grew up, etc. For most people, and most of the time, all these places used to be located in the same place. Today this is less and less the case. 

It will be interesting to see if our language will evolve to describe this new reality or if we will simply go on using one word for many things and many places. I thrive in ambiguity, so count me in on that.

Two kinds of contradiction

Most arguments and disagreements stem from using the same word for multiple things. One of these words is "contradiction". 

A person might contradict herself if she says something about a topic which doesn't apply to another one. For example, I can be a staunch defender of freedom of speech when it comes to my political faction, but I might take a more punitive position when the "freedom" to be defended belongs to my antagonist. 

Another form of contradiction is the one that happens over time: I say something today that contradicts with something I used to say, or believe, in the past. There is a famous video out there showing the (many) instances when Steve Jobs contradicted himself. Or rather, his previous self. 

The first type of contradiction is bad. At best it is a glitch. Normally, it is pure hypocrisy. The second one is not only excusable, it is recommended. I hope to be able to learn something as I move along in my life and there is no better way of showing that than contradicting with your previous self. 

I will start using two different expressions going forward: parallel contradiction (bad) and sequential contradiction (good). 

In love of hopelessness

“The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.” — Albert Camus, Sisyphus

A few weeks ago I was sitting in a meeting room together with the cofounders of a company we had been working on for almost two years. Despite some promising signs and a lot of effort, the product had failed to show any visibile traction. We had agreed a month earlier to look for alternative directions and there we were, sitting together in the moment of reckoning. The painful conclusion loomed heavy in the room: it was time to throw in the towel.

This is not one of those “why we failed posts”. I am not a big fan of them, but that’s another story[1]. No, what that episode got me thinking about is how hard it is for us to see meaning in our failed attempts. How consuming the act of trying is.

At Founders, we have always stressed the advantage of being able to separate what you are working on from who you are: that companies can fail but people shouldn’t. Four years in, this remains an assumption. In real life, we have noticed that once a company goes down it’s just too difficult to immediately jump back on the saddle.

I was talking to one of the co-founders and suggesting a bunch of other things he could try. From my privileged point of observation, I couldn’t understand what was so difficult in seeing as a “normal” job the process of trial and error until finding something that works. Listening to his replies, I realised that what is daunting is not failing, it is spending a life searching.

The real issue with product market fit

Product market fit is a fickle concept. It can be lost, it keeps moving, and contrary to popular belief, things don’t get magically easier once you get there. Yet, even discounting for its vague definition, it is fair to talk about life before and after product market fit.

Founders who have been through it describe it as an “emotional grind”, telling stories of stress, loss of sleep, loss of weight (and, even worse signs of mental and physical distress). It is more than just the hard work. Hard work itself becomes a relative concept depending on where the company is. Burnout is not a function of time, but one of movement. Forcing something that doesn’t work drives burnout, while the excitement for having (finally) found something that people want pushes everybody to give more.

We have been in this situation multiple times, and watched others doing the same. There is something exhausting about the uncertainty, the lack of positive feedback, the feeling that you are not progressing but endlessly circling back. It is a state of mind worse than the fear of failure, to the point that throwing the towel starts to be seen as a liberation. Not the dreaded moment where the world crumbles on you, but a break from the pain of futility and hopelessness.

The feeling of uncertainty, not the fear of failure, is also what blocks most people from getting started. It shows up as the perceived need to find a good idea, to validate the problem, to eliminate risk — all before jumping in. The big fear is finding out that we are toiling in vain, spending days, weeks, months on something no one wants. It is a vicious cycle: we don’t want to start before we know what will work, but without starting there is little chance to discover what that is.

Successful startups are built by two types of people: those who know how to manage the search and those who are naive enough not to care about it. We can keep relying on the latter, but we would be doing a good job if we could create more of the former. More specifically, we have to build a case for trying.

An economic case for trying

At the individual level, a lucid argumentation for trying comes from Paul Graham. In “After the Ladder”, he makes an important observation about the (micro)economics of a predictable career:

Economic statistics are misleading because they ignore the value of safe jobs. An easy job from which one can’t be fired is worth money…

The near-certainty of a long, uninterrupted career, followed by a generous pension is comparable, in NPV terms, with scoring a big financial win early on in our life. The social pact between employers and employees around the ladder made it rational to forgo the allure of a potential big win for the stability of a steady job. Conversely, if this promise disappears it would be far more rational to attempt reaching long term financial safety by making the most of our wealth early in our life[2].

We are accustomed to see our working life as a linear progression. We start humbly but expect to see our position and wealth grow over time. This approach has multiple implications. Betting our lives on careers means jumping on whatever is most in demand at that point of time. Our only reference to project a career path is to look at others who have been through it. By definition, it means betting on careers that are already 20–30 years old. In addition, our expectation for increased wealth pushes us for upgrades as we climb the ladder. In doing so we commit ourselves to a certain life, entangled in debt and irreversible choices.

Embracing a life of searching can seem irresponsible. Even Paul Graham limits his comparison to the extreme cases: the safe job and the early win. There are lives in between. Careers assumed to be safe are ended abruptly leaving people in shock, unable to stand up again. Others keep searching for that win, but never find it. What choice is better? Trying provides the optionality that careers remove. It allows us the early slack to focus on what’s coming instead of what has been. It keeps options open and burn rate low. As the two tracks progress, the economic value of a career is locked down, the range of outcomes ever narrower. Continuous searching, even the unfruitful kind, leaves that door open for serendipity.

Despite the obvious risks, trying can be a rational economic choice for the individual. Its value, however, becomes even more apparent when we turn our attention to the aggregate, the macro.

We all understand intuitively that an economy of outliers favours a portfolio approach. Over many bets, one will yield disproportionate returns, covering for all the rest and more. We use metaphors like racing and natural selection, pointing to the fact that many attempts are required to produce a winner. But we often fail to appreciate the real meaning of “required”.

Natural selection, in particular, is often misunderstood. When talking about “survival of the fittest” we get the idea that the fittest can exist in isolation, that all other players are background actors in a movie that doesn’t need them. The need for a portfolio is driven by our inability to see through the noise and identify the fittest. We wouldn’t need a portfolio if we could predict the future. That’s an illusion. When we focus all our attention on the outcome of evolution we overlook the process at the core of it. Biological life is a learning machine. Each attempt contributes to the whole, revealing closed paths and indicating open ones for others to pursue.

Learning from biology, we can understand economies as evolutionary systems driven by a process of selection, variation and replication:

“Evolution creates designs, or more appropriately, discovers designs through a process of trial and error. A variety of candiate designs are created and tried out in the environment. Designs that are successful are retained, replicated, and built upon, while those that are unsuccessful are discarded.”
”From the perspective of an entrepreneur or a new entrant starting in the low valley of a new architecture, there are lots of ways up and many new, untried peaks to explore. Most attempts up from the entrepreneurial valley will wind up in dead-end canyons or on disappointing short peaks. But with enough explorers working away, someone will eventually find an attractive route up.
Eric Beinhocker, The Origin of Wealth

This collective climb is not a race between unrelated individuals. It reminds me more of this scene from World War Z where zombies step on top of each other to climb the wall.

The question now is: what’s in it for the zombies at the bottom of the pyramid?

A modern Sisyphus

That’s where Sisyphus come in. There is a meme going around the web comparing a day in the life of corporate to that of a startup. We can skip the corporate guy in his hamster wheel and focus on the startup guy. He is depicted pushing a boulder up the hill, a clear reference to the myth of Sisyphus, condemned by the gods to carry a stone up a mountain just to see it rolling down again soon after.

I have seen these meme many times, recently in this tweet.

The issue with trying lies in the comment: “One gets you somewhere”. The truth is that most of the time it doesn’t. We miss the second half of the image, the downslope. Pretending to find relief from our Sisyphean toil in the hope of a result is perpetuating the same illusion at the root of our discomfort. What makes the search so miserable is precisely the expectation of progress, and the consequent feeling of despair when we realise that our work is without hope.

The solution lies instead in accepting our fundamental condition. For the French philosopher and existentialist Camus, Sisyphus is the ultimate hero. He has mastered the absurdity of a life without purpose and can now face his destiny with joy. As he walks back down the hill to pick up the boulder once again, Sisyphus is perfectly conscious of his fate. He resists despair not because he has hope, “to get somewhere”, but because he knows has not got anywhere.

“Each atom of that stone, each mineral flake of that night-filled mountain, in itself forms a world. The struggle itself towards the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

You must try.

[1] Rationalisation doesn’t bring me solace from pain and I agree with the position that considers failure an overrated source of learning. Yes, we made errors and we picked the wrong turn in multiple places of the maze, but anything I could write here wouldn’t increase your chances of succeeding in the same space. Graveyard bias is not much better than survivor bias.

[2] This includes both starting a company and joining one very early (before product market fit)

The contrarian

The contrarian lives in the twittersphere,

Thousands like truths he alone believes

The contrarian says you should speak your mind,

Bhe is the first to criticize when you get it wrong

If contrarian is a badge that you wear like a pin 

Don't feel ashamed if it feels like a fraud.

But if "contrarian" is a word you don't even know what it means,

It may well be the contrarian is you. 

The human virus

In one of those serendipitous encounters that make life more enjoyable, I recently found myself reading "The Rise of Christianity" by Rodney Stark

As an Italian, I studied my good deal of Roman and Christian history at school but I had never grasped how incredible, and totally non-obvious, an achievement was for this "obscure Jesus cult" to take over one of the vastest empires in history in merely 300 years. The question sets the scene for an exciting read, but on top of that, the author does an incredible job in keeping it condensed within 200 pages of clear sociological explanations without tedious enumeration of facts. I recommend the book to everybody interested not only in this specific chapter of human history but in the broader topic of how disruptive social and cultural change happens.

At the core of the book lies a simple yet ofter overlooked fact: any movement or phenomenon that can keep growing at a steady rate for a sufficiently long period of time will become dominant. Compound growth, as noted by Einstein (apocryphally) is the most powerful force in the universe. That's the obvious part. The non-obvious one is how to maintain said growth rate.

In Christianity's case, it was essentially a matter of "fit". Multiple aspects of the emerging faith made it the perfect killer of the incumbent Greek-Roman tradition. From the focus on family and procreation (amidst a largely unmarried and low natality population) to the commitment to charitable endeavours (which made the Christian population more resistant to epidemics), to their openness and ability of assimilation.

History takes often unique turns and we have no guarantee that the outcome would be the same if we could replay it from the start. The history of Christianity shows, however, that certain innovations are simply too powerful to be stopped. It seems like nothing is changing, until it changes forever.